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Press Release

Civil Rights Groups Launch National Effort to Combat Alarming Voter Purge Attempt

The groups are offering guidance and assistance to jurisdictions that recently received misleading letters from the Public Interest Legal Foundation.

November 22, 2017

WASH­ING­TON, D.C. – Today, lead­ing national civil rights organ­iz­a­tions are urging state and county elec­tion offi­cials in juris­dic­tions across the coun­try to reject the Public Interest Legal Found­a­tion’s (PILF) coordin­ated attempt to launch a wide-scale voter purge effort across the coun­try. Using decept­ive tactics promot­ing voter suppres­sion, and urging actions that could in fact viol­ate the legal require­ments of the National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act (NVRA), PILF’s action has created an imme­di­ate need for clari­fic­a­tion. In response the coali­tion of organ­iz­a­tions, includ­ing the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and Demos, are offer­ing guid­ance to juris­dic­tions on how to comply with the NVRA.
 
The national effort comes in direct response to letters recently sent by PILF to hundreds of local elec­tion offi­cials. In them, the group’s sugges­ted actions could viol­ate legal require­ments under the NVRA, a law Congress passed to increase voter parti­cip­a­tion and regis­tra­tion. PILF uses an unre­li­able and inac­cur­ate assess­ment of voter regis­tra­tion rates to accuse the juris­dic­tions it has targeted of having more voters on the rolls than eligible resid­ents. It then falsely claims these high regis­tra­tion rates alone provide strong evid­ence that a juris­dic­tion is not fulfilling its oblig­a­tion to main­tain accur­ate voter regis­tra­tion data­bases. PILF has threatened litig­a­tion if their proposed meas­ures are not taken. PILF’S letter is part of a larger concer­ted effort to remove voters from regis­tra­tion lists and further its false and base­less claim that there is wide­spread voter fraud across the coun­try. 
 
The three civil rights organ­iz­a­tions sent a letter and accom­pa­ny­ing memo to the juris­dic­tions targeted by PILF. The groups make it clear the juris­dic­tions can protect them­selves against PILF’s threats and offer to provide assist­ance in that area. The memo also asserts PILF’s justi­fic­a­tion for a voter purge, which includes mislead­ing use of U.S. Census Bureau data, is base­less.
 
“The letters by PILF repres­ent another attempt to perpetu­ate the big lie of 'voter fraud’ and intim­id­ate elec­tion offi­cials to purge eligible voters from the voter rolls,” said Kristen Clarke, pres­id­ent and exec­ut­ive director of the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights under Law. “PILF is one part of a larger coordin­ated conser­vat­ive agenda to attack the right to vote for millions of Amer­ic­ans. The job of elec­tion offi­cials is to help people vote, not stop them from voting, and we will do everything we can to help elec­tion offi­cials to do their jobs in compli­ance with federal law.”
 
“The National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act exists in part to prevent irre­spons­ible purges like the one PILF is attempt­ing to initi­ate here,” said Jonathan Brater, coun­sel for the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “Scar­ing local offi­cials into comply­ing with their agenda is not only wrong, but it also could lead to illegal purges. Federal law does not require what PILF demands. We are ready to help those juris­dic­tions who got these letters continue to help people exer­cise their funda­mental right to vote.”
 
“Our demo­cracy is strongest when every voice can be heard – when every eligible citizen can cast their vote and have it coun­ted. The National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act includes clear guidelines for communit­ies to main­tain accur­ate and up-to-date voter rolls, and to protect voters from improper removal. Public Interest Legal Found­a­tion has no viable legal claim; its letters to juris­dic­tions are inten­ded to bully counties to imple­ment aggress­ive and illegal voter purge prac­tices that will dispro­por­tion­ately impact low income famil­ies and people of color, and suppress their votes,” said Stuart Naifeh, Coun­sel at Demos.
 
The memo states: “In part because of the PILF letter’s defi­cien­cies, we are concerned that it was sent with the inten­tion of bully­ing or indu­cing counties into under­tak­ing more aggress­ive voter purge prac­tices, which could lead to the removal of eligible voters from the rolls, espe­cially poor people and people of color.  As organ­iz­a­tions that repres­ent and protect voters, we are deeply concerned that PILF’s threats will scare elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors into perform­ing ill-conceived or illegal list main­ten­ance programs, in viol­a­tion of federal law.”
 
Last week, PILF’s exec­ut­ive director J. Chris­tian Adams sought to use his posi­tion as a member of the sham Pres­id­en­tial Advis­ory Commis­sion on Elec­tion Integ­rity to prompt the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice to provide to the Commis­sion a report on voter fraud prosec­u­tions over the last decade. The inquiry raises addi­tional alarm about the Commis­sion’s collu­sion with DOJ, which in June reques­ted inform­a­tion from 44 states about voter list main­ten­ance proced­ures.

To read the memo sent to 248 juris­dic­tions, click here


To sched­ule an inter­view, please contact: Rebecca Autrey, Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, 646–292–8316, rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu; Derrick Robin­son, Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, 202–662–8335, drobin­son@law­yer­scom­mit­tee.org; and Kate Berner, SKDKnick­er­bocker, 202–464–6966, kbern­er­@sk­dknick.com.

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About the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law:

The Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpar­tisan, nonprofit organ­iz­a­tion, was formed in 1963 at the request of Pres­id­ent John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in provid­ing legal services to address racial discrim­in­a­tion.  Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law is continu­ing its quest “Move Amer­ica Toward Justice.”  The prin­cipal mission of the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, partic­u­larly in the areas of crim­inal justice, fair hous­ing and community devel­op­ment, economic justice, educa­tional oppor­tun­it­ies, and voting rights.
 
About the Bren­nan Center for Justice:
 
The Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpar­tisan law and policy insti­tute that seeks to improve our systems of demo­cracy and justice. We work to hold our polit­ical insti­tu­tions and laws account­able to the twin Amer­ican ideals of demo­cracy and equal justice for all. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from ending mass incar­cer­a­tion to preserving Consti­tu­tional protec­tion in the fight against terror­ism. Part think tank, part advocacy group, part cutting-edge commu­nic­a­tions hub, we start with rigor­ous research. We craft innov­at­ive policies. And we fight for them — in Congress and the states, the courts, and in the court of public opin­ion.
 
About Demos:
 
Demos is a public policy organ­iz­a­tion work­ing for an Amer­ica where we all have an equal say in our demo­cracy and an equal chance in our economy. Demos is work­ing to reduce both polit­ical and economic inequal­ity, deploy­ing original research, advocacy, litig­a­tion, and stra­tegic commu­nic­a­tions to create the Amer­ica the people deserve. For more inform­a­tion about Demos visit www.demos.org.